Always add value, and go above and beyond what’s generally expected – that’s the mantra that helped get Wellington business Element Roofing to where it is today. Kevin Kevany has their story.
Ask your average SME boss for a word which she or he thinks succinctly summarises their enterprise, and prepare to be battered, baffled and bewildered by the ‘corporate speak’ which follows.
Ask Mark Hands (pictured), owner manager of Wellington’s five-year old Element Roofing and you get one word: “hungry”.
What drives Mark? “Your family deserves the best,” he says.
Given Element Roofing’s high rating by their customers and the industry (4.9 out of 5) and their search for perfection in an industry infamous for broken promises, delays and shoddy workmanship, we wanted to know more; especially since their five-year plan predicted growth to a staff of 25, and the company already employs 40.
Most Kiwis probably only replace a roof once in their lives. That means being vulnerable to a supplier who knows there is unlikely to be repeat business.
“We understand that,” says Mark, who bought out his founding partner at the end of 2018.
“So our process is designed around guiding you from beginning to end. We appreciate the needs of our customers and the necessity for flexibility. Like, being able to re-roof your home while using the scaffolding for painting and guttering. This has saved our customers thousands.”
Incidentally one of his proudest accomplishments so far is repairing the Prime Minister’s roof, after another company failed to do so.
“We have worked in every area of Wellington,” says Mark, “and built a huge fan-base of ‘believers’, who continue to promote our company daily. There is an 80 percent chance [people] have heard about us through a friend or work colleague, as we roof around six to eight homes a week.
“As a company we treat every customer’s family with the respect I would like a roofing company to show my mum and grandmother back in Ireland – by giving them the very best possible job.”
Mark, an Irishman, and an adventure sports and ironman enthusiast, started his career as a carpenter. He worked in Australia before settling in New Zealand, and attributes much of his business’s success to suppliers who have “bought our vision and launched us better than we could have imagined”.
“Take our designer, who was initially given a vague brief and small budget and came up with crisp, professional designs which have put us in a different league. Our printer goes above-and-beyond to ensure we have the best,” says Mark.
“Another contributing growth factor has been the investment we made in advertising and systems. We invest heavily in advertising to drive sales and company growth. We developed our systems to a point where we have a great deal of control over our business – thereby ensuring we are consistent, and can constantly monitor quality and customer satisfaction.”
The reliability factor
When he moved to New Zealand in October 2011 Mark worked for established construction company LT McGuinness, before working for Kyle Payne, his future business partner. Interestingly, he then went into real estate, where he says he got a complete education on sales.
“With my last $2,500 Mark the dreamer, and Kyle, a successful construction business owner, set up Element Roofing – while continuing construction and real estate in conjunction with roofing a few homes.
“We’d both had dealings with the roofing industry and found the industry didn’t have an ‘outstanding’ company to deal with. Research among friends and family overwhelmingly said the industry was unreliable.
“Companies frequently failed to turn up or never got back to them with a quote. They reported communication was lacking, and service was poor. We knew we could do better.”
“Two months later we could see things were starting to pick up on the roofing sales side, and we brought on Warwick Scanlan, who worked with me, and did roofing for Kyle. We were away.
“Then a couple of months after that we had a roofer knock on the door and ask for a job.
“After much discussion [around whether it was too soon] we took the risk and got him on board.
“Element Roofing was truly born, as he could roof a house three times faster than we could. From there we hired another team and were [soon] roofing two to three homes a week.”
Building the backbone
A full-time office was established. They started to build the roofing sales, as well as the systems which formed the backbone of what they use today.
“Next step was to hire Kelly Ellwood, an ex-corporate finance manager, too soon for what we needed. But she took our accounting out of the dark-ages – from a shoebox of receipts to a fully-integrated online system,” recalls Mark.
“With the confidence of Kelly’s numbers, we added our first sales rep and brought Scanlan, one of the original ‘three’, into the office and grew the team internally and on the tools – to be the powerful machine it is today.”
By the end of 2018, the business had seven teams with six people in the office. Today there are ten teams about to venture into new markets, with ten people in the office.
Mark credits business mentors, using personal cars, business meetings and planning on laptops in cafes, and living modestly, for successfully negotiating the tricky early months.
He bought his first home in 2017.
Attitude and aptitude
A very real challenge has been recruiting the right people, says Mark. “The roofing industry is experiencing a shortage of candidates, so we often hire based considerably on attitude and aptitude – skills can be strengthened with the right training and support, but having the right attitude is critical.”
Diversification has also aided their growth. “Our attic storage solutions allow us to carry out work at times when the weather makes working on a roof impossible. In this way, we can comfortably keep more staff employed full-time making the company more agile overall – as we are more likely to be able to respond to increased demand for any of our services.”
Element Roofing has had sales of almost ten million dollars since launch. It has no debt and great cashflow, says Mark.
He says looking forward they’ll continue to focus on clients’ interests and needs, and always aim to add value. “Going above-and-beyond what’s generally expected”.
“We intend to become a market leader, shaking up the industry by delivering a prompt, quality, professional service and creating a fun, successful environment for clients and staff.”
Kevin Kevany is a freelance business writer. Email [email protected]